Lock restored by Volunteers & ‘Co-operation’

A report by Jon Pontefract

After more than three years of work and ‘Co-operation’, the restoration of Eisey Lock is complete. The structure of the lock has been fully restored entirely by volunteer labour from all over the U.K. Eisey Lock stands in land owned by The Co-operative Group.

In 2008 the lock presented a sorry sight. Trees grew out of the large sections of the collapsed chamber’s walls and the roots had pushed 2 tonne quoin stones out of position. Another large tree was growing through the cill. 

Restoration groups rally round

The restoration project was adopted by Newbury Working Party Group (NWPG), Kent & East Sussex Canal Restoration Group (KESCRG), London WRG, and WRG BITM (Bit in the Middle). Each group carried out weekend work parties through 2009 & 2011. The weekend work was backed up by a number of week-long Canal Camps organised by The Waterway Recovery Group. Initial work created access for the removal of old brickwork and fallen trees.

The curved wing walls above and below the lock were then prepared for restoration. Stop plank channels were added below the lock. 

Previously, stop planks could be fitted only at the top end. The new channels mean that the lock can now be totally isolated thus removing the need to drain nearly five miles of pound.

The next job was to drain and clear the lock chamber. Jon Pontefract explains, “We found it to be full of collapsed brickwork and stinking mud. Clearance required an eleven tonne excavator fitted with a two-metre downward extension and ‘clamshell’ grab. The machine had to be positioned well away from the crumbling lock sides. This meant that the operator had to work ‘blind’.

"The chamber clearance revealed that the bottom metre of brick work and the brick invert floor were in good condition. This gave us a sound foundation to build upon. The chamber was then filled with scaffolding to enable removal of the damaged brickwork back to a sound base. All in all a very skilled job well done”

Tradition, Reclamation & Determination

Over 25,000 new bricks were used. A similar number of original bricks were cleaned and reclaimed for the project.

In keeping with the original methods lime mortar was used to lay the bricks.

Despite some limitations, i.e. the time it takes to set and the fact that it cannot be used when the temperature is below 4 degrees Celsius; lime mortar brick work possesses elasticity desirable in such structures. The use of lime mortar is also supported and recommended by the Heritage Lottery Fund and English Heritage.

The large tree growing through the cill was felled by WRG Forestry. The size and depth of the stump and its roots took three heavy working weekends to dig out. This meant that little remained of the original cill structure and top gate recesses. Reinforced concrete was used to replace the cill… challenging but enjoyable work for determined wrgies!

The brickwork was completed and coping stones levelled this summer.

So, what happens next?

Jon Pontefract gave a characteristically positive answer, “The spill weir will be rebuilt and the whole site needs to be seeded with grass. A supply of water to the top of the lock will occur sometime in the future. In the meantime we take the view that restoration should occur wherever and whenever possible… sort of ‘a brick in time saves nine approach’ if you like”

At present, it isn’t possible for the general public to access the site, as it remains private property. A regular Thursday evening group of Cotswold Canals Trust Volunteers based at the Trust’s Eastern Depot near Latton is gradually clearing the towpath and canal bed north-west of the lock. The hope is to gain land owners permission to establish a permissive path to continue the Thames and Severn Way. 

Jon summed up by saying, “Thanks are due to The Co-operative Group who have been understanding & supportive hosts during the restoration. We hope to move on shortly to other structures under their ownership.”

Nigel Shields from Savills the Co-operative Group's agent says – "I am pleased that the Canals Trust has restored the lock – this is one of the many structures on the canal in need of restoration – the Co-operative Group is pleased to support the Canals Trust and looks forward to working with them in respect of other structures along the route as it crosses the estate."

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